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On Climate Surveys, the People Agree—Mostly [Interactive]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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It’s interesting to see how different points can pique the interest of different people looking at the same data set.

My colleague Mark Fischetti (senior editor and partner-in-crime for many of the Graphic Science items in the magazine) was intrigued by bipartisan agreement on questions related to global warming in the survey results shown in this graphic—originally published in the April 2014 issue of Scientific American with the title “On Climate, the People Agree.” I was blown away by the fact that although most people surveyed believe that the world’s temperature has been going up, and many believe we should do something about it, they don’t consider the issue to be “extremely important” to them personally.

Here’s an interactive graphic of the data for you to explore. What piques your interest?

About the Author: Jen Christiansen is the art director of information graphics at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @ChristiansenJen.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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  1. 1. SAULT18 12:45 pm 04/10/2014

    A lot of people don’t want to do anything about climate change because it ISN’T “extremely important personally” to them. To many, it is just one more problem out there to worry about and they see its impacts as too far into the future to make it a priority. The misinformation campaign run by the fossil fuel companies (via their anonymous donor think tanks and “concerned citizens” groups) doesn’t help, and the fact that the media has utterly failed to adequately cover the science on climate change doesn’t help either.

    What is surprising is that people are somewhat apathetic towards the problems of climate change even though the scientific consensus on the issue is accepted by more than 60% of the people in almost every state. The median national mood appears to accept the mainstream scientific view even more at 70+ percent.

    However, people’s support for various policies is interesting. Generic government action was polled with the question that it should “do more to confront global warming” and got between 45% – 73% approval with a median of about 60% approval. However, when you SPECIFY which policies the government would use to “confront global warming”, approval for government action increases a great deal. For example, the SLIGHTLY less generic policy option of “government should limit greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. businesses” shows a 20% increase in favorability even though it is almost functionally identical to “confronting global warming”. Maybe the specter of nebulous government policy is less popular than slightly more specific policy.

    Renewable energy tax breaks and reducing power plant emissions “by law” both poll at 75% – 80% and even cap & trade polls above 50% in all states with a median of about 73%. Yet we have failed to see these policies enacted AND Congress let the wind energy production tax credit lapse again for the 4th time at the beginning of the year. How come policymakers feel that they won’t see many negative repercussions from endangering renewable energy jobs even though the policies that support them are extremely popular? First of all, since people don’t think global warming is “extremely important” to them personally, support for policies that fix the problem is “wide but not deep”. Most people don’t get extremely revved up in their support for environmental policies like they do other issues.

    In addition, there is so much corporate money in our political system (and growing due to the Supreme Court) that the donations a politician will lose by taking a pro-pollution stance are dwarfed by the donations and outside spending that the fossil fuel companies can provide. Combined with the subdued support for environmental policy among the public and it is easy to see why many politicians would go with their short-term personal interest and try their hardest not to be the target of the fossil fuel industry’s ire.

    Link to this
  2. 2. tuned 1:13 pm 04/10/2014

    If they live like I do I ding dang dong guarantee you it would never have become a problem.
    Hedonism is the base of the problem.
    Posting lots of %s will not change that.

    This is further proof the IPCC reports should not be changed at all. Their frequency and content have raised eyebrows worldwide.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Chris Ho-Stuart 6:00 pm 04/10/2014

    Before even looking carefully at what data was presented, I started to look at the tools for managing that presentation.

    The first thing I noticed is that the dots for two political parties overlayed each other, so that the blue obscures the red in a combined display.

    This makes the presentation of combined data useless for examining the impact of political affiliations with whatever was being surveyed.

    At this point, I just lost interest in the display. A simple set of numbers for the population isn’t all that meaningful without some comparisons; and the comparison that is available and might say something doesn’t work. The immediate effect of a full presentation is actively misleading and the check box tools make it too hard to switch quickly between red and blue. (You need two clicks, not one, to switch. Remove one and add the other.)

    I might be interested if this flaw was fixed, as it is the presentation was too flawed for me to take much interest.

    Link to this
  4. 4. jchristi 6:10 pm 04/10/2014

    Thanks for the feedback, Chris Ho-Stuart. I’m experimenting with some new (to me) tools for building interactive graphics, and your critiques are spot-on. Despite the downfalls of my final graphic, it seemed worthwhile to post–as I quite liked the idea of letting folks explore the data behind our April print graphic in more depth. Perhaps my next attempt will be more successful from your point of view!

    Link to this
  5. 5. tsnell 6:53 pm 04/18/2014

    In one sense the graph is correct for me. Climate Change will have little impact on me as I’m 75 and only a few more years left. But because I have children and grandchildren I care about, and because there is much (but not all) of our culture that I think is worth preserving, it is personally very important that we do something NOW and something BIG about global warming and climate change. For more on this, browse through my site http://www.tomsclimatechangeblog.com. It’s worth the effort.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Jack Wolf 2:17 pm 05/4/2014

    If they called me, I would have given them an earful about the climate change impacts I see every day whether its in the news, or in the field of science I work in.

    Link to this

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